When the smoke cleared after the final Bass Pro Shops Bassmaster Southern Open of 2013 at Logan Martin Lake, 24-year-old Brandon Lester of Fayetteville, Tenn., was the last man standing in the Opens AOY race.
The fact that several Elite Series pros participated in the Southern Opens this year gives Lester’s accomplishment even greater credibility. It also bolsters Lester’s confidence.
He’ll need it when he competes against the best bass fishermen on planet Earth next year in the 2014 Bassmaster Elite Series.
How did Lester become such a highly skilled bass fisherman at so young an age?
It didn’t happen overnight. He has dreamed, schemed and worked at becoming a professional bass angler for nearly 10 years.
Lester has been fishing as long as he can remember. His father and grandfather introduced him to what has become his passion.
“They weren’t big into bass fishing,” Brandon said. “We fished for crappie, bream and catfish. I still enjoy that.”
The first bass tournament Lester fished at age 16 was a life-changing event. It lit a blaze in his belly you couldn’t douse with a fire hose.
At every opportunity, Lester fished club tournaments and “Wednesday night dog fights.” While taking marketing classes at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga (UTC), Lester competed in the Carhartt Bassmaster College Series as one of the UTC MOCS (formerly Moccasins).
“That really helped me out a lot,” Lester said. “That’s where I realized I could compete at higher levels. It gave me the confidence I needed to keep pursuing my dream to be a pro fisherman.”
In 2012, Lester took his first shot at the gold ring by fishing the Bassmaster Southern Opens. He ended the season in a respectable 24th place, but claims that he was hindered by being “star struck.”
“I mean, there’s Roland Martin in the flesh, who I’ve been watching on TV since I was five years old,” Lester said. “I pull into one of my fishing spots and out comes Terry Scroggins.”
The Bassmaster Opens weren’t the only thing on Lester’s plate. Last year, he married Emily at the Lake Guntersville State Park Lodge. The couple went fishing on Guntersville the next day. (They went on an official honeymoon a month later to the Cayman Islands.)
Emily fully supports Lester’s tournament fishing career and traveled with him to all the Open events. His mother, Kim, father, Jimmy, and sister, Brook, also came to the Opens to cheer him on.
“I’m truly blessed to have a family that supports me 100 percent,” Lester said.
To fish the Bassmaster Opens, Lester used vacation days from his full-time job at CNS Plastics where he runs the receiving dock. His superiors are well aware of his bass fishing dreams and have generously worked with Lester to schedule time off for the tournaments.
Getting It Done
During Lester’s 2013 Bass Pro Shops Southern Opens campaign, he settled down and performed to his full potential. Although he had only fished in Florida one time before the Southern Open at Lake Tohopekaliga, he pulled off a third place finish.
“I concentrated on isolated hyacinth mats as close to deep water as I could find,” Lester said.
He caught bass in practice by punching a Beaver bait through the mats with a heavy sinker. When a cold front shut down the bass during the tournament, Lester continued getting bites by downsizing to a Gambler BB Cricket.
Lester knew the umbrella rig would dominate the second Bassmaster Open at Lake Douglas. However, he also knew the umbrella rig was a feast-or-famine presentation.
“I wanted to avoid a disaster and build on the strong start I had at Toho,” Lester said. “So I ran way upriver where there was some current and off-colored water.”
Working a 1/2-ounce football jig down riprap banks produced bass for Lester at Douglas the first day in stormy weather. The next day, under sunny skies, he had to switch to a Texas rigged Zoom Brush Hog with a 3/16-ounce bullet sinker to get bites.
His play-it-safe strategy paid off with a 15th place finish.
During the final southern Open at Logan Martin Lake, Lester had a field day catching mainly Coosa River spotted bass. He fished a shaky head worm around bridge columns and riprap banks to nab 16th place and the AOY title.
“This year was a year of adjustments,” Lester said. “At each tournament, I had to change from what worked in practice to catch them after the tournament started.”
The ability to make adjustments on the fly is what separates the top bass fishermen from the also-rans. This bodes well for Lester when he joins the ranks of the Elite Series pros in 2014.